Governing Forest Commons in the Congo Basin: Non-Timber Forest Product Value Chains

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"Probably eaten by dinosaurs 130 million years ago, today eru (Gnetum africanum and bucholzianum leaves are harvested from the humid forests of Central Africa: the basis of a lucrative US$14 million dollar regional trade and marketed to the African diaspora in Europe. An important source of nutrition in popular dishes and used in traditional medicine, it is remarkable that Gnetum has survived; let alone being the focus of a significant trade. But for how long? Increasing demand and unsustainable harvests have resulted in decreasing availability if this forest vine. These leaves are one example of non-timber forest product (NTFP) chains originating from the Congo basin. Based on value chain analysis, this paper illustrates the variety of arrangements, values, actors and processes involved in getting nine NTFPs including bee products (honey, wax, propolis), bush mango, pygeum, raffia, gum arabic, cola nuts, raffia, bamboo and wild plums from forests to consumers. The study shows that how the forests and the NTFP trade are governed is critical for the continued survival of species and the livelihoods of those dependent upon them. These value chains operate in extremes of regulation as well as, paradoxically, voids. Public actors perform market functions and private actors undertake regulatory responsibilities, both in the absence of effective or efficient formal institutions and with multiple, overlapping customary and formal centralised and devolved or decentralised institutions, rights and responsibilities governing forest access, exploitation and trade. The mechanisms used to fill these gaps and create more favourable chains, the values of these products and impacts on livelihoods and forests are described, analysed and discussed."
forests, governance and politics, trade, regulation, livelihoods